As we rounded one of many bends that wind through Grand Teton National Park, we spotted a line of cars pulled over at the side of the road.
"What could it be?" We wondered. On our last pass through the park, we'd seen:
- 1 grizzly bear
- 3 black bears
- 6 elk
- 12 pronghorn antelopes
- 1 osprey
The sun had gone down moments before we pulled over behind the other cars, and we had trouble figuring out what we were seeing at first. Then we realized: A herd of 30 elk, with a giant bull elk leading the line across the valley. The bull would stop every few feet, and raise its head to emit an eerie call—a high screech overlaid on a deep, echoing reediness. It made Dan and I turn to each other, eyes wide, every time we heard it.
Our lab/beagle Charlie sat in my lap shaking as we watched the line of elk advance. And in the backseat, our husky/terrier Maya whimpered, paced, ate treats, and contemplated jumping out of her window in an excited panic.
As we watched the scene, I was thankful that we'd opted to take the long way home. Six hours earlier, we'd started our trek through Grand Teton National Park and consciously left the park with our map folded up.
"Let's get lost a little bit," Dan said.
So we did. We took a left turn and ended turning a 40-mile trip into the Tetons into a 150-mile trip to Yellowstone National Park. After seeing a few canyons, waterfalls, and millions of evergreens, the sun began to set. We were hiking around Old Faithful then, and we wanted to get back to our camper. But the lure of the Grand Tetons was strong, and on our way back, instead of taking the highway, we returned the way we'd come, searching the hills, canyons, and valleys for wildlife as we drove.
That's been my favorite part of this trip so far—choosing the unexpected, taking the long way, leaving routine behind. Because in Chicago, we definitely had a routine (albeit, a fun one). And growing up there especially, we'd lost a lot of that craving to discover new things; we assume we've seen it all already.
But on the road, everything is fresh, and we find ourselves saying yes to new experiences and ideas way more often than we say no.
One night back in Colorado, our friend Brad from Chicago was staying over, and the three of us sat outside talking late into the night. Dan and Brad are in a band together called Ancient Friends, and had just played a set at Illegal Pete's a few nights earlier.
"Hey," I said, "Would you guys want to do a little impromptu music video tomorrow? We could film it with the mountains as a backdrop."
Instead of being hesitant or finding excuses in other plans, Dan and Brad said yes. Brad would be moving to Sweden in a few weeks, they reasoned, and this could be a great homage to their band and the beauty we'd seen in Colorado. The next day while we worked, they brainstormed locations. And with the golden hour on the horizon that evening, we hiked to an overlook on Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado.
Just like taking the long way home and seeing the elk, that shoot reaffirmed that there's beauty in saying yes to the urges and ideas that strike you. Make the effort, let go of routine, and live.